If you weren’t aware of The Westside Schools before Suraj Gahir committed to the program, you are not alone. I hadn’t heard of this school, nor had I known of their basketball program before just over a week ago.
Well, don’t feel too bad, because their basketball program is just about a month ago. But in that short time, they’ve already started to make a name for themselves as a premiere program for up and coming ballers in the Lower Mainland.
For James Blake, currently the program director, the process to get it off the ground started a few years ago when working at Shawnigan Lake.
“The thing that spurred us along was the prep hockey program [at Shawnigan Lake]” explained Blake talking to BC Sports Hub. “About four years ago, they started up a prep hockey program. And it’s got five teams now, they’ve got kids going Ivy League, Division I, you name it.
I sat there and watched and went ‘Oh my goodness’. They’re doing this at the BC high school level for hockey, and in Ontario they have an elite prep league as well for basketball. So kind of took the two of those and saw where we fit.”
From there for Blake and company, it was about finding the right school and league to make it happen. After talking to the National Preparatory Association but determining the league was “spread out a little too thin” across Canada for a team to be viable on the West Coast, they settled on The Westside Schools and applied The Grind Session.
“The big thing is we targeted a school that didn’t want to be in BC High School Sports” said Blake. “They wanted to be more specific on elite programming. And that can be dance, robotics, but that can also be sports. Hence comes the basketball program. We applied to a couple of different leagues and were accepted into the top league, being The Grind Session to compete in that elite high school basketball.
[There’s] a lot of work ahead for us, and [we] have to sign some really good players that are in this province, but going to have to go outside the province and the country as well to make it work.”
In terms of the actual roster, that is still a work in progress. With Suraj Gahir and Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape officially committed, Blake says they’ll also be getting a player from Vancouver College, as well as two guards from Bosnia and Serbia.
“Our big thing is because this is an exposure level, we really do not want a big team” he said on the team’s eventual makeup. “We want a small team. You want to get guys as much playing time as possible. Maximum of 10 guys is what we’re looking at for the elite team.
Next year we may grow and have a second team, but right now we really want to focus on those guys and make sure their college pathways is correct and [for] recruitment that they’re seen and at the right sessions.”
And that inaugural season is poised to be a busy one. The team will play in various tournaments across the Western U.S. before they compete in the “Grind Session World Championship”, where every team from the league will be present. They’ll be seeded and play one another from the other regions, much like the NCAA Division II tournament.
In terms of the ultimate goal of the program, that’s clear — create a system and a program like they have in Ontario that has allowed them to churn out numerous NBA level players over the last number of years. Also, to get back the players that have gone out east to come back home and get the players enough exposure to achieve their collegiate goals.
“That’s our job” said Blake. [. . .] I get it, I understand why they’re going out there. We’re just hoping to create a mini atmosphere like they got in Ontario.”
More roster announcements are expected over the next few weeks. Their first tournament is scheduled for November 15th, with games against local competition planned for earlier in the season.
Written by: Nick Bondi